We're encouraging all students, staff, alumni and prospective students to sign it.
Dear Paul Thompson,
I am writing to you to express my support for the striking staff and ask about the VCO’s plan of action for improving staff and student conditions - which are inseparably connected - here at the Royal College of Art.
Universities across the UK are currently taking industrial action in response to the deterioration of working conditions in higher education. The Royal College of Art stands out amongst striking institutions as having the highest percentages of casualised workforce amongst lecturers nationally, with 90% of teaching contracts qualifying as ‘zero-hours’ and insecure (UCU, 'Precarious work in higher education: A snapshot of insecure contracts and institutional attitudes', 2016). This means most RCA lecturers are not entitled to sick pay, maternity pay or annual leave, and can get fired at any time; all the while tackling unsafe workloads averaging 2 days of unpaid work each week. More than mere discomfort or inconvenience, the unpaid labour leaves both staff and students with negatively impacted mental health, as confirmed by the recent staff survey pointing to 95% of staff experiencing high stress levels at work and students similarly experiencing poor mental health at rates far greater than what the College’s mental health services can assist with. The students of the College therefore stand firmly in our solidarity and belief that no one should be subject to such conditions, never mind the lecturers of a QS ranked number 1 Art & Design University in the world, a reputation advertised and capitalised on by the RCA.
Staff have not taken the decision to strike lightly. They will lose money over the course of the strike on top of the 20% real terms wage cut they are already experiencing. Furthermore, for female and non-white staff, who already experience pay gaps of 10% and over, losing pay due to industrial action is an even greater expenditure. The RCA has long been a high-fee, low-wage institution, with drastically rising student admissions and the number of teaching staff remaining constant responsible for a decline in all students’ experience. While it is possible that some teaching will be lost due to the industrial action, students are essentially already missing out on appropriate pedagogy due to the RCA’s higher than ever admissions rates resulting in reduced student-teacher contact, shrinking studio spaces and inaccessible workshops due to overcrowding.
Art colleges are dying. Business as usual, coupled with funnelling resources into branding instead of teaching, is not the answer. The RCA’s way of addressing the ongoing harm happening to staff and students has been to prioritise future students by pointing to all the ways the College will improve down the line. While national UCU negotiations are important, we draw attention to the need to engage with staff and students on how you plan to make improvements within our institution.